Here we are with the fourth in our series of posts about the role an Executive Director
might play in the development database. Previous post each addressed common responses I hear from Executive Directors regarding their role in the database.
Today, with Part 4, we’ll look at the dangers of “home grown” solutions.
Don’t reinvent the wheel!
If you are fortunate enough to have a board or staff member with what I call a “database head”, congratulations! That person can be an invaluable resource in helping you succeed in your role as a database director, but you should strongly resist the temptation to accept their offer to create a “custom” database for you-for free. While I have no doubt about their intentions or capabilities, it is highly unlikely that this one person has the fundraising knowledge or technical expertise to match what is on the market from the likes of Blackbaud, Millennium, or Mission Research.
A better use of that person’s considerable time and talent would be to help you harness and effectively direct what you’ve already bought. While all databases are different in terms of specific functionality, they are all databases and have certain characteristics in common. Someone with a true “database head” should be able to help guide your expectations and point you in the right direction with an existing solution. Furthermore, your organization, while unique, faces many of the same challenges as all of the non-profits I’ve worked with worldwide. The products available in the open market are designed with you in mind and only after a considerable investment in market research and guidance from industry experts.
Additional pitfalls of the custom database are training and ongoing maintenance. What happens five years from now when that person is no longer on the board and you’ve been through 3 assistants? You’re much more likely to have a healthy, cutting edge database if you’re using on open market solution. Likewise, the same is true when it comes to hiring new staff who are already knowledgeable in the software. With a custom solution, you’re held hostage.
Don’t even get me started on “We only use the database for gifts”. Do you only use your freezer to make ice? Again, a fish for another fry.